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May 24, 2022

The Best Things to do in Darwin, Australia’s Northern Territory

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From crocodiles to candlelight escapes, when you're looking for the best things to do in Darwin, one thing's for sure: the capital of Australia's Northern Territory will surprise you.

Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin

Your Travel Guide to Darwin

After two years in the wilderness, Australia is back, baby!  And with red earth, crocodiles, beer can art and a flourishing foodie scene, it's time to revisit the best things to do in Darwin, capital of Australia's Northern Territory. 

Introducing Darwin

Disclosure: this Darwin travel guide was produced in partnership with Tourism Northern Territory and their research. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like, otherwise there's no point! Also, if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!

Where is Darwin?

Darwin is the capital city of Australia's Northern Territory and it sits on the coast, on the western shoreline of the NT. 

Why go to Darwin?

Darwin brings a smidge of city slick to the wide open Northern Territory of Australia. It's a long way from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide et al and it knows it. What's more? It might even like it. 

Take in art, tradition, culture and a whole lot of salty crocodile in this gateway to the rust red earth paradise that is the NT.

Top Travel Tip for Darwin

“You have to get used to a different sense of time,” a Darwinsider told me. “The

Northern Territory, NT, stands for the following: not today, not tomorrow. Maybe next

Tuesday.”

The Best Things to Do in Darwin

Australia - Northern Territory - Robert Mills of Bantji Tours Portrait

Robbie Mills introduces us to his heritage...

Go Walkabout. Properly

The Northern Territory has a rich Aboriginal heritage and one of the best things to do in Darwin is to start to appreciate it. 

From my first trip, I found these notes:

Robbie Mills, whose real name is Padj Padj Janama Penanke Ngamatuawia for short, showed as around the red-rocked cove of Lamaroo Beach. He describes himself as Larrakia – an Aboriginal word that describes his people, the traditional owners of the land in and around Darwin. There are more than fifty tribes or clans in the Northern Territory, each with their own language, culture and customs.

Robbie shows us milkwood, chews green-backed ants and walks barefoot across the stones of the beach and then the tarmac of the road. He shows us Aboriginal art at Lyons Cottage and the restless daubs of paint still swirl around my sleepless mind."

Robbie no longer runs his tours, unfortunately, but you can read more about his viewpoints here.

Australia - Northern Territory - Sleeping crocodile in Crocosaurus Cove in the aquarium tank

Crocosaurus Cove: not for the faint of heart

Brave Crocosaurs Cove

Crocosaurus Cove is somewhere every newcomer to the NT should visit. For it wasn't until I was in Crocosaurus Cove, literally in the water, that I realised how truly terrifying these creatures could be. 

They are fast. And I mean fast. They can jump. High. 

It's an educational, redefining moment. And I can guarantee you that it will force you to listen to those health and safety notices when out on the water or in the National Parks. 

Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin Markets - paw paws

So many fresh flavours to try in Darwin...

Visit the Parap Village Markets

Spend Saturday morning at the Parap Markets, indulging in freshly ground coffee and laksa and some of the zestiest Asian cuisine around. Browse for trinkets and jewellery, tarot and massage or just sit in the sun and enjoy the live music. It's a great way to start the weekend in Darwin and to soak up the city vibe. And if weekend mornings are your snooze times, then try the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets instead.

Ponder The Defence of Darwin Experience (part of MAGNT)

In 1942, Australia experienced its first taste of bombing on Australian soil as Japanese forces attacked as part of World War Two. Unsurprisingly, this had a huge effect on the national psyche, with questions that linger to this day.

The Defence of Darwin Experience is an immersive and poignant recreation of the events that led up to the attack, combined with a thoughtful reflection on the aftermath. 

Different in Every Sense: Darwin's Beer Can REgatta

Spain has the Tomatina, Britain has cheese-rolling and Texas has

rodeo. Step forward Australia, with Darwin’s annual Beer Can

Regatta…


With a name like that, it’s not clear what to expect. Some cans, naturally. Probably some beer. But the regatta part? How do those first two words combine to make a ship?



And so it was one sunny afternoon – the sort where the sun’s strength scorches you like an ant beneath a cosmic magnifying glass –that I found myself on Mindil Beach, part of Australia’s gloriously named Top End.



Mindil, a sandy beach on the edge of Darwin, hosts the Beer Can Regatta each year and has done since 1974. What began as a good time for the lads with beer, cans, and wet T-shirt competitions has matured into an all-out family affair. Today you’ll find sandcastle contests, soul singers, hand-made butterflies and scented soap for sale.



Rules of the Beer Can Regatta


Primarily, of course, you’ll find boats. And they’re essentially made from beer cans.


According to point three of the ten “can-mandments:”


– “Cans must provide at least 90% of your flotation. Anything can be used to stick them together. The outer hull must be made of cans and at least two thirds of them have to be uncovered and visible.”


Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin Beer Can Regatta Beach Scene
Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin Beer Can Regatta Close Up Coca Cola

The rules go on:


“Thou shalt build thy craft of cans – which must be drink cans, open, emptied and in more or less their original state. Any attempts to enter a submarine (i.e. a craft made of full cans) will result in confiscation and disposal by the Committee.”


There then follows a few safety tips and tricks about tow ropes, life jackets and obeying the rules before we reach point eight:


“Swearing, threats, stamping of feet and floods of tears will have NO effect on committee decisions…Bribes of strong drink will be accepted but will also have NO effect on decisions.”


Nine: “Thou Shalt Not Committee Adultery – Nothing really to do with the Regatta, but it gives us an air of responsibility and respect.”



And ten: “Thou Shalt Go Back And Read The First Canmandment Again.”



Which goes on to say, in true Australian fashion: “Thou shalt enter in the right spirit – to have a bloody great time.”

Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin view from Lameroo Beach

Lameroo Beach: one of Darwin's many beautiful spots to cool down

cool down

Despite all that talk about saltwater crocodiles, Darwin actually has some great spots to cool off in the water. You can enjoy walking along the sandy beaches of Mindil, Casuarina and Lameroo, of course. And then down at the Darwin Waterfront Precinct, you'll find the Wave Lagoon with its gloriously fun wave pool.

Another way to cool down is to head out of the city to the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens for some flower-filled shade or Berry Springs Nature Park for an out of town chill out.

Chill at The Deckchair Cinema

Make the most of those balmy evenings with the Deckchair Cinema and its laid-back, bohemian vibe. Stock up on snacks and kick back and relax beneath the stars. 

Australia - Northern Territory - MAGNT Temporary art exhibition

View the MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory)

As the main art museum of the Top End, the MAGNT is a must-see on any Darwin itinerary. 

In addition to the Defence of Darwin Experience (above) it features scientific exhibitions and work from some of Australia's most prominent Indigenous Australian artists. 

Take a Food Tour

I've been a passionate supporter of food tours for a long, long time. New on the scene since 2020 is this three hour Darwin Gourmet Tour. Top restaurants include Jimmy Shu’s Hanuman, Wharf One and Phat Mango. And the food? The menu promises unique flavours of the NT, from crocodile to paperbark-smoked barramundi, all with a spot of sightseeing along the way.

Try 00Seven Thrills

New in 2022, adventure company 00Seven now offers jet ski excursions in Darwin and off-road buggy trips in nearby Charles Darwin National Park. Tours include License to Thrill, Skyfall and Octopussy.

Zip around on Darwin Harbour Airboat Tours

Matt Wright's Darwin Airboat Tours try out all kinds of boat tricks on the water. First, a jetboat speeds across Darwin Harbour. Then, guests switch to an airboat to cruise through the scenic mangroves, looking for marine life as they go. Then, it's time to skim across the mudflats before switching back to the jetboat to speed back home. With the odd spin and trick for thrills.

Sunrise in Kakadu National Park

Sunrise in Kakadu National Park

The Best Things to Do around Darwin

As the main city in the north of the Northern Territory, Darwin functions as a gateway to the wild and beautiful Australian outback. You have many options but if you're short on time, don't miss...

Litchfield National Park

You can reach the beautiful Litchfield National Park within a day trip from Darwin without it feeling too rushed. Spend your time hiking, swimming, splashing beneath waterfalls and gazing at magnetic termite mounds.

Extend beyond a day trip with an overnight stay in one of these gorgeous Hideaway cabins.

What's New in Darwin

A lot, in short! Especially on the foodie scene. Darwin has been busy opening luxurious retreats just outside town and artisan eateries right inside it . Check out these listings to see what's changed.

Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin people celebrating on bikes

Darwin. Where people live their lives...

What you need to know about Darwin

Bookmark these details to help you plan your own trip to Darwin.

How to get to Darwin

Darwin has its own airport (DRW) which connects to most air hubs in Australia, as well as to the major international routes. The airport itself is around 12 km from Darwin city centre and has airport hotels and car rental desks to make exploring the Northern Territory even easier. At the time of writing, the following airlines advertise flights from Darwin: Jetstar, Fly Tiwi, Virgin Australia, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Indonesia AirAsia and Air North. 

To get to downtown Darwin, taxis cost around $30 or else you can arrange a transfer in advance. If you plan on twinning your trip to Darwin with any of the National Parks then consider picking up a rental car at the airport.

How to get around Darwin

From the waterfront along to Crocosaurus cove is walkable with comfortable shoes and the right attitude. For further afield, you'll need access to wheels. Either take a taxi, Uber, use your rental car (parking isn't too bad) or use the public bus system (find details here.)

Where to Stay in Darwin

As you'd expect from a city this size, you'll find the full range of luxury, mid-range and budget accommodation. 

In particular, I'd recommend the Vibe Hotel Waterfront for its great location and views. 

Some newer places to stay in Darwin that have cropped up since I visited are these gorgeous properties:

  • *NEW* Finniss River Lodge promises to be somewhere a bit different. Not within Darwin itself, it offers a luxury Outback experience within reach of the city. With a maximum of fifteen guests, the place offers adventure, nature, isolation and the chance to recharge. 
  • *NEW* Another beautiful retreat within a short drive of Darwin is Freshwater Retreat, a combination of villas and a main four bedroom house just 10 minutes drive from Darwin's CBD and even closer to the Nightcliff Foreshore and Rapid Creek Markets.
  • *NEW* On the shores of Lake Bennett, a newly renovated and renamed place is back in business. De Lago Resort is recommended as a spot to stay for boating, camping, and fishing.

And for convenience, you'll also find this new Mercure Hotel at Darwin Airport. Unlike your usual airport hotel, this one comes with private plunge pools and views over the Rapid Creek bushland and its wildlife. Other airport hotels, up your game!

Where to Eat & Drink in Darwin

Foodie recommendations change fast and there have been a lot of newcomers over the last few years. So, at this point, let me share the recommendations I've heard and tell you what's on the hot list:  

PHAT MANGO

Finalist for Australian Chef of the Year 2018 and Winner of Variety of Chefs 2019, Martin Bouchier heads up Phat Mango, inspired by local flavours and traditions.

THE DARWIN CLUB

Overlooking the Arafura Sea, The Darwin Club serves up seafood in an elegant yet relaxed setting. 

EBB & FLOW

Another spot with a beautiful watery view, Ebb & Flow is one of Darwin’s signature vegan eateries. Dine and drink tropical style by the tranquil Cullen Bay Marina.

DOM'S BAR & LOUNGE

Check out this boutique bar's unique cocktail: the Territori-Tini. Not just a pretty name, the beverage won the people’s choice vote for the inaugural Darwin Mango Cup in 2020.

CHARLIES OF DARWIN

Now here's a story of the times. Darwin’s first-gin distillery had to close its doors during COVID-19. Why? To switch from making gin to hand sanitiser to support frontline workers.

Now back in action after renovating its outdoor rooftop space and hanging garden, you'll find locally made spirits and Territorian bush products, like Kakadu plum and lemongrass. 

WILLING DISTILLERY

Who doesn't love a brand new artisan distillery? Willing Distillery specialises in traditionally distilled craft spirits and uniquely Australian flavours, like desert lime, and is a cool new cocktail bar in Darwin’s industrial district. 

MAYBERRY

Mayberry, the saloon-style venue, joins good company on Austin Lane to add some spirits and cocktails to the city's best street art. Head there for live music and drinks with friends. 

FAT TUNA

With a brilliant name, this new salad bar on Mitchell Street looks poised to make us all healthier. Fat Tuna uses the freshest ingredients in its poke bowls and helps to expand Darwin's foodie scene, if not its waistline. 

From my trip way back when, I'd also highlight Darwin Ski Club, which overlooks the curiously named Fannie Bay and provides a fantastic sunset view.

Start Planning Your Trip now!


Start planning your trip by using the Northern Territory resources here.


This guide was written as part of a six part series in collaboration with Tourism Northern Territory.


Find the others here.


For inspiration follow @ntaustralia on instagram and check out their NT Facebook page here.

Australia - Northern Territory - Darwin Waterfront at sunset

Darwin waterfront at sunset. No filter...

Frequently Asked Questions about Darwin

Here's what you need to know about visiting Darwin in Australia's NT.

When is the best time to visit Darwin?

Darwin sits in Australia's tropical Top End, which means that it has average temperatures of 32 degrees centigrade for most of the year. The summer rains come from November to April, which relieves the humidity a little. However, most people tend to prefer the dry season, which runs from May through to October.

What about dietary restrictions in Darwin?

Well, nowhere's perfect but you will find a wide range of food types in Darwin, particularly at the markets. Vegetarian and vegan food is pretty common and eateries are getting better at managing allergies and intolerances. As ever, as always, bring a few snacks with you, though, if you have dietary restrictions. Just in case.

What to wear in Darwin

Generally speaking, anything goes! It's a tropical city, so dress in clothes that will protect your skin and keep you cool. It's generally fine to wear shorts and sleeveless T shirts but you may want to bring more specialist jungle clothing for trips to the outback.

Is Darwin safe?

Darwin is politically a very safe part of the world to visit. Of course, Australia does have dangerous animals about, so check and learn about those and pay attention to all safety notices.

Is it a good idea to travel to Darwin with kids?

in short, yes! Darwin is safe and easy to navigate and full of activities that kids will love, from the Beercan Regatta to the beaches, the markets, to the crocodile extravaganzas. 

What to pack for Darwin

Darwin is warm year round and has a relaxed dress code so packing should be easy. Bear in mind that you may need long cotton shirts and trousers for some outback activities to protect your skin from burn and bites. Check our guide on what to wear in the jungle here for more details. 

You can easily buy sunscreen when you're there but make sure to bring hiking boots and a sun hat before you go. 

Don't forget to pack a travel adapter, your usual medication, chargers and so on. See our ultimate packing checklist here.

What is it like to travel solo in Darwin?

Darwin is a relaxed, safe, fun-loving city with great healthcare, a big backpacker scene and a welcoming attitude. I've travelled solo from here into Kakadu National Park and it was absolutely fine. Take more care heading into the Outback if you're travelling solo: double check that you have everything you need and that you know exactly where you are going.

Do you need a visa for Darwin?

As ever, this depends on your citizenship and much more besides but as a rough rule of thumb, most Europeans can apply for an eVisitor visa which allows stays for up to 90 days. Always check with your own government first. 

What currency do you need for Darwin?

Like the rest of the country, you'll need to have Australian dollars when you travel through and around Darwin. 

More on Travel in Australia

Don't miss the utterly magnificent Kakadu National Park, which is 3 hours from Darwin. Read what makes Kakadu so special here. (With more time, you can also make a stop at the Mary River National Park or the Mary River Wetlands as well.)


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About the author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

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